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Social Psychology and Theories on Racism

Aversive racism is a term use by Gaertner and Dovido to describe white Americans who have been socialized by the racial history of American culture, along with the cognitive tendency to categorize information that results in subtle, yet commonplace racial beliefs and feelings, while keeping strong egalitarian values. This keeps the aversive racist stuck between their learned negative view of other races and their egalitarian values and beliefs. The sources of the negativity that underlies the aversive racist’s racial attitudes and provide the motivation to be prejudice are either internal or external according to Devine. One’s own internalized (self-prescribed) standards or guides for regulating behavior are considered to be the internalized source of racism, while the socially prescribed standards or guides for regulatory behavior are the external sources of racism. Devine thoroughly researched the conflicts between the two. By looking at the sources we can understand how motivation enforces the responses and how the norms have an impact on the responses. External sources are overemphasized in racism.

The conditions under which aversive racism is likely to exist seem to situations where it is unclear whether there are social prohibitions against expressions of negative racial beliefs, but when the situation clearly shows anti-prejudice views the aversive racist may not show any racist response, but they may seem very egalitarian. Racism is usually expressed as in-group favoritism, rather than out-group derogation. Comparisons between the hiring of racial groups versus whites in 1988 to 1989 and 1998 to 1999 showed black applicants that had a clearly better application were hired over whites are results that agree with the aversive racist theory, reduction of racism over time, but the study also showed when the black applicant and the white had similar qualifications, the participants preferred to hire the whites. This shows that there is an underlying hostility toward blacks that is dormant in environments that do not allow for it, but when it is unclear, aversive racial attitudes surface.

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Aversive racism seems to be self-perpetuating through the lack of awareness that the racist tends to have over his/her own aversively racist actions. Dovidio argues the aversive racism suggests that because white’s negative affect toward blacks manifests itself subtly in terms of opposition to social programs and voting behavior that are aimed at bringing more blacks into society, which Dovido believes shows the lack of awareness of the negative racial attitudes toward blacks. Another way to look at the self-perpetuation of racism is through the lack of acknowledgment on the part of the person who is being discriminated against. Just as the aversive racists are not aware of the racism that they have developed, the people who are discriminated against are in denial, which prevents them from change. These people try to keep up their own self-esteem by denying the acts against them. This could in turn prevent people from trying to change the way they are treated, prolonging the cyclical nature of aversive racism.

Also, the contemporary cognitive approach explains that prejudice creates a negative perception, which will, in turn, justify the prejudice. This shows the cyclical nature of racism. Improvement or challenge- Our country has been committed to positive change in the field of racism, but aversive racism is something that is not easily distinguished by the current trends of identifying racism. This change has made racism harder to detect because it is invisible to the system that was set up to destroy it. While aversive racism is harder to detect, it is still an improvement from the out-group derogation that is easily identifiable. The traditional theories discussed in class seem to be better suited for explaining the development of cultural racism, but at the same time, the individual has to be involved with the institutions which control the culture the individual belongs to. The theories of realistic group conflict and socialization show how the individual is controlled by cultural factors, which in turn show the development of cultural racism.

The realistic group conflict theory is just as valid today with contemporary racism as it is with old-fashioned racism. The direct competition between groups over scarce resources, which leads to prejudice, was apparent in the Holland and Sears study. The competition over cotton was supposed to create a strong correlation with a higher rate of lynching (hate crimes). As the value of cotton went down the rate of lynching went up, although Green found the relation is not as strong. The conflict over scarce resources still exists today, in housing, jobs, school, etc. This creates prejudice between groups, but the groups are not necessarily racially divided, as with the Holland and Sears study. The old-fashioned form of racism is easier to detect, because of its out-group derogation that is easily identifiable.

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The Socialization theory could address both old and contemporary forms of racism. Its fundamental proposition is that prejudice is socially transmitted through socializing agents (parents, friends, etc.) in society; we then internalize the prejudice and conform to the societal norm. Bandura’s social learning theory shows that children, through reinforcement and modeling learn appropriate behaviors. By observing, internalizing, and imitating the children become racist. They learn the expectations, goals, interests, abilities, and other aspects associated with their own race and others. Through observation, one conforms to the expectations, even when they’re capable of more, but they never come to realize it because they were socialized to believe their capabilities are far less than possible. This has occurred in old-fashioned racism as well as contemporary racism. In Goodman’s linguistic tags research, the word “nigger” was shown to have a negative attitude associated with it. The tag was given to blacks, which created a negative attitude associated with “nigger”, with blacks.

The racial norms are communicated, in direct and indirect ways, through the parent’s interaction with the child. A child’s conceptualization of race is shaped by their environment, but more directly by their parents, by the age of five. According to Allport, some parents directly teach their children directly about their racial attitudes, while other children obtain their views of racism by observation. Conformity is a process by which prejudice could be displayed. When the atmosphere indicates less resistance to prejudice, and prejudice increases, so do conformity to prejudice. According to Pettigrew, prejudice is related to one’s general tendency to conform. The theory that seems to account for the prevalence of gang warfare in inner cities would be the realistic group conflict theory. This theory states that we appear to develop feelings of hostility and prejudice toward another group, only if we believe that our in-group as a whole is at a disadvantage, relative to an out-group, with regard to an important goal.

The sense of powerlessness that the in-group feels may be a reason for the aggression toward another group over drugs, money, territory, etc. The theory states that if we cannot change the disadvantaged status of our group relative to an out-group, one way we can vent this frustration and also try to equalize the situation is by bringing down the other group by direct feelings of prejudice toward the out-group. The gangs seem to not realize that fostering prejudice toward an out-group would not really better one’s situation. In gang warfare they seem to be competing to be number one in the inner city, this makes the top spot a scarce resource, and only one group could hold the position. This creates pressure and prejudice. This is like the Sheriff’s study with the boys at Robber’s Cave. Two groups competing over the number one spot, only one can have it, a separation between the groups starts to form, with prejudiced feelings created by the competition.

Sherif and his colleagues conducted an experiment. Sherif helped to run a summer camp at Robber’s Cave Park, Oklahoma. The boys were chosen to be “normal”, healthy, well-adjusted individuals. None of them knew one another. They were divided at random into two separate housing units: ‘The Eagles’ and ‘The Rattlers’. In the first group, cohesion was low, as they didn’t know one another. Sherif gave each group a set of problems to solve, which required that the boys in each group must co-operate (separately from the other group). Group cohesion grew rapidly. Sherif then introduced contests between the two groups. Either group could win a prize only at the expense of the other group. Very rapidly, the groups began calling one another names, fights broke out regularly and there were raids on one another’s camps. Having set the two groups against each other, Sherif attempted to bring them back together.

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The first method he tried was to unite them by giving them a common enemy. This was fairly effective to the extent that the Eagles and the Rattlers became closer, but the conflict was not reduced, strictly speaking, because they held hatred for their common enemy. The next year Sherif again set the groups against each other and then tried resolving the conflict by bringing them together in pleasant surroundings to eat excellent food and watch movies. That didn’t work because all they did was fight. Sherif then tried confronting the two hostile groups with a common threat. For example, a water shortage ‘suddenly developed’ or the trucks bringing their food “broke down” when the boys were particularly hungry. In these cases, the problems could only be solved if they co-operated. This technique worked.

Sherif suggests that giving the groups overriding, superordinate goals can reduce group conflicts. But, he says, many of the group leaders will continue to see co-operation on solving such common problems as a sign of weakness. It is generally accepted that joint problem solving is an effective way of reducing conflict between groups and individuals and of increasing cohesion within a group, although this needs to be in a non-competitive situation. The conclusion is that co-operation on shared goals is important in resolving conflict. Simply stopping the fighting or bringing hostile groups together is not enough. Co-operation must be created at diverse levels in the social system, which builds a sense of positive interdependence.

The realistic group conflict theory basically states the when direct competition between groups over scarce resources occurs, prejudice between the groups arises. Holland and Sears tested this theory by comparing the level of the economy of cotton from 1882-1930 to the level of lynching (hate crimes). The theory was as cotton’s value decreased, the amount of lynching would rise, or as the value of cotton rose, lynching would decline. The study found a negative correlation of (-.72), although Green, in 1998, found the relation is not so strong. The discriminating factor of this theory seems to be competition, when the competition is reduced the prejudice is reduced. In the Sharif study, the conflict and prejudice decreased as cooperation increased. When two groups compete over scarce resources, a feeling of helplessness occurs. Only one group can get scarce resources. At an individual level, nothing can be done to change the situation, so instead of trying to raise one and one’s group, a venting of frustration occurs, trying to equalize the two groups.

In both the realistic group conflict theory and the scapegoat theory, frustration creates hostile impulses, which are displaced onto the out-group. In the scapegoat theory, rationalization is more internalized as opposed to group rationalization. The scapegoat theory differs in the actual rationalization of the prejudice, in realistic group theory the competition between the two groups creates hostility, but in the scapegoat theory, the hostility and frustration are not created by the actual scapegoat. The major differences between the socio-cultural and symptom theories are on what level the prejudice occurs, group or individual. The socio-cultural theories are based on the group and how it develops prejudice, while the symptom theories are based on how the individual develops prejudice.

Socio-cultural theories (realistic group, socialization, conformity) are based on the group and how the group reacts to environmental factors that develop racism. Society controls the prejudice, not the individual. Prejudice is related to one’s general tendency to conform to society. Prejudice is related to the conflict between two groups. Prejudice is related to changes in social norms. When these occur the group changes. The group rationalizes the prejudice. Symptom theories (scapegoat, authoritarian personality model) are based more on the individual and their reaction to the frustration, socializing, and group conformity. When the individual can’t make a goal, they may feel anger, frustration, and disappointment. These feelings are then internalized individually, and released onto a social group.

The socialization theory of prejudice is based on the idea that socializing agents (parents, friends, TV.) affect the way we think about a certain group of people. Through rewarding appropriate racial behaviors, and punishing or discouraging inappropriate racial behaviors, our views change. Children also learn to behave a certain way toward certain races through modeling, copying another’s behavior that is deemed appropriate. The child may model a parent, friend, or another non-parental socializing agent. The authoritarian personality model is based on social learning. Adorno in 1950 developed the theory. Parents pass the authoritarianism to children. The children become submissive to authority, they become blindly obedient, trusting authority. They develop conventional ideals, traditional norms, and intolerance for deviance; any out-group violates the “norm”. They become aggressive with a predisposition to hurt others.

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They organize their world in terms of a system of power hierarchies, which they adhere to. Adorno believed that authoritarians hated deviant impulses, and were more likely to externalize these unacceptable impulses to others through the projection of emotions. The projected emotions tend to be out-groups that were not accepted by the authoritarians. The individual doesn’t believe that they possess undesirable qualities and that the out-groups possess these undesirable characteristics. The relation of the parents and the child make up this theory, which is why it is an individual-level theory rather than a socio-cultural theory. The child has a strong dependence on the parents but at the same time fear, hatred, and suspicion of them, which is then internalized, and displaced onto the out-group or minority.

Joe expresses these forms of racism according to the Brislin article: “arms-length prejudice” and “real likes and dislikes”. Joe by engaging in friendly, positive behaviors toward his out-group members, by working, going to school, and attending church, but when a member of the out-group marries a member of his in-group, Joe becomes mad. Joe seems to have a fear of intimacy with the out-group by not feeling it socially acceptable for them to marry into his in-group. When the out-group member is in a setting where they are sharing intimate behaviors and private thoughts, Joe’s opinion of the out-group changes. His appearance of acceptance of out-group members most of the time makes it hard for detection of his arms-length prejudice by others.

When Joe feels the out-group is responsible for social problems (crime, drugs, AIDS, etc.) in his city, he is showing his negative feelings about the out-group, because certain members of the group engage in behaviors Joe dislikes. His aversion to those behaviors shows he falls into the category of “likes and dislikes”. Joe’s prejudice allows for him to vent some personal anger against an unknowing out-group, by disliking the marriage between his in-group and the out-group, and his blaming the out-group as a whole for the social problems certain members of the group cause. Crandall’s Attribution-Value Model of prejudice hypothesizes that people are prejudiced against groups that they feel have some negative attribute for which they are held responsible. He suggests that a significant amount of the affective component of attitudes and prejudice toward groups is based on two interrelated factors: attributions of controllability and cultural value.

He hypothesized that the prejudice derives from holding group members responsible for negative stereotypic behavior, and judging the individuals responsible for their stereotypic attributes, in turn, leads to prejudice against them. The second factor of prejudice is a negative cultural value for an attribute that characterizes the social group. In order for the prejudice to affect the group a negative characteristic has to be associated with the group, but an individual may be judged on an individual basis. His attribution model is an ideological theory of prejudice. The hypothesis is that prejudice can come from perceptual processes based on beliefs about causality and personal and cultural values for traits, characteristics, and stereotypic attributes about members of a group.

Deservingness is a factor, like in Feather’s model of deservingness, responsibility for the action that leads to the outcome and when the outcome matches the value of the action. This differs from modern racism. In modern racism the issue is how equality should be implemented, there are in-groups and out-groups, there is contact between the two groups to develop ways to create equality. According to the modern racist, there is a conflict that needs to be changed, but the problem is how not why. Modern racists do feel a need to change the situation, but in the attribution model, the people who are prejudiced against seem to be deserving of the treatment, i.e., Crandall’s study of the treatment of fat people.

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